by Marc LeGoff
The Rev. James E. Skillington says that most people can't help but feel somewhat depressed and helpless after a daily barrage of news stories on crime, bloodshed and scandal.
His company, Village Life Company, aspires to alter that perception with its new online news magazine, Village Life.
Last November, the nonprofit, nondenominational communication services corporation launched the interactive weekly news site on the World Wide Web (http://www.villagelife.org).
Clicking onto Village Life's "mission statement" page reveals its cyberideology: "... To provide objective clarity and a sense of hope to the news."
"The media today bombards us with all kinds of messages," said Skillington, an Ellicott City resident and VLC's executive director. "And those who bark the loudest are usually the ones whose messages get heard. We want to show that amongst all the despair, there is indeed hope."
Skillington, a Methodist minister and former newspaper publisher, said Village Life's goal is not only to offer balanced coverage on challenging social issues -- such as abortion, school violence and teenage pregnancy -- but to link concerned readers with groups actively involved in such causes.
Last February, the Oella-based VLC received start-up grants from Bauman Bible Telecasts of Washington and two computer consultant companies, Xenon Laboratories of Toronto and headlight.com of Frederick. Churches and individuals also have contributed money.
Headed by a board of directors, VLC has four full-time staff members and several freelance writers.
"Originally, we considered publishing a print news magazine," said Gary G. Allen, chairman of the board of directors and mayor of Bowie, in Prince George's county.
"But in the end we decided that the Internet would provide a fresh alternative and best achieve our public service goals. The Internet holds the promise of reaching the people we don't often see in church, especially the younger generation."
Although Village Life is targeted at Christians, Skillington believes the stories cover a wide range of issues to which members of any religion can relate.
"We are not a church," he said. "We're not trying to tell people what they should or shouldn't believe or promote any one denomination's beliefs. We are an information provider. We want people to explore various subjects and make life value decisions on their own."
Click and browse
The magazine's illustrated home page depicts numerous buildings and objects, including a newsstand, church, information booth, carousel, cafe, footpath and orbiting satellite. By clicking onto an icon a browser can access departments within the magazine.
The news department consists of a weekly cover story and other stories, a cover interview with a newsmaker, a listing of associated interest groups and charities and daily briefs from Reuters. Recent cover story topics have included: "Fear and Terrorism," "The Legalization of Marijuana" and "Assisted Suicide."
After finishing the stories, readers can download the names of interest groups on both sides of an issue.
The daily briefs can range from a report on the federal government's proposed $3.9 million financial bail-out of Washington, D.C. to one telling how the Kleberg County, Tex., courthouse changed its official greeting from "hello" to "heaveno" so as not to imply any satanic overtones.
Other regular features include reviews of movies, videos, books and contemporary Christian music; travel ideas with a religious theme; information on religious nonprofits; and a chat room to discuss "hotbutton" topics.
In January Village Life recorded more than 50,000 hits, 96% coming from the U.S. The remaining 4% have come from users in 26 different countries, including Canada, Australia, Norway, Germany, Saire, Honduras, Singapore, Japan and Korea.
Coming later this year is an interactive network page, where users will be able to listen to and communicate via e-mail during live online newsmaker interviews.
"Any viable web site is always under construction," Skillington said. "You adapt to your audience. ... I've heard some analogize the Internet to dog years. The technology changes so rapidly, one year is like seven. It's exciting. It's cutting edge. It's scary. Where is the technology going to take us next? We don't know. It's sort of like life."
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